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Supreme Court rejects builders' challenge to pollution rule

October 3, 2011 |  1:08 pm


This post has been updated. See below for details.

The U.S. Supreme Court today refused to review a case in which builders in the San Joaquin Valley sought to overthrow restrictions on air pollution associated with sprawl.

The National Assn. of Home Builders had sought to overturn a rule that requires developers to mitigate additional air pollution associated with large developments -- such as increased automobile traffic with longer commuting distances.

The so-called indirect source rule, adopted in 2005 by the San Joaquin Unified Air Pollution Control District, was aimed at steering development to areas close to public transportation, providing pedestrian-friendly shopping areas, and encouraging alternative means of travel, such as bicycle lanes. Developers who could not comply were required to pay a fee that would be used to fund pollution offsets elsewhere.

Earthjustice, an environmental group that participated in the case, praised the rejection by the nation's highest court. "We were glad to stand with the San Joaquin air district to defend this rule,” said Paul Cort, an attorney for Earthjustice. “No special interest should have a free ride in a region where schools and parents are frequently warned to keep children indoors on bad air days.”

The regulation had withstood opposition in 2008 in a lower federal court in Fresno, and had been appealed to the nation's highest court.

[Updated, 1:50 p.m.: "We are disappointed that the Supreme Court did not elect to hear our case," Amy Chai, a senior counsel for the Nationial Assn. of Home Builders, said in an email. "However, the Supreme Court receives thousands of petitions every year and hears only a fraction of those cases, so it is rare to have a case taken by the Court."]

The heavily agricultural San Joaquin Valley, along with the Los Angeles area, suffers from some of the dirtiest air in the nation and a high rate of asthma and other respiratory diseases.

[Correction: A previous version of this story said the pollution rule was aimed at greenhouse gases. It was intended to curtail emission of nitrogen oxides and particulates, an effort that also would have a beneficial effect on emission of greenhouse gases.]


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Photo: A housing development along the San Joaquin River in California's Central Valley. Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez / For The Times